If we want to tell the story of the future of tech then we should not leap into the future. There is no purpose in jumping hundreds of years ahead, imagining flying cars, housekeeping robots, cities in space. Not only is this something we’d only be wildly speculating about, it often leaves us looking a lot more foolish than when we started. I don’t need to name every sci-fi movie or TV show that made a hamfisted attempt at imagining our future technology.
Think 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Blade Runner. Does our world look anything like the worlds laid out in those works of fiction? Of course they don’t. We are still a long way away from flying cars or teleportation devices, or maybe not.
So no, today I won’t talk about what’s coming in the future of tech.
Instead, to tell the story of the future of tech, we must instead bring ourselves to the past. We start in the early 1900’s, well over a hundred years ago. Orville and Wilbur Wright set to work trying to solve what they called ‘the flying problem.’ People had taken to the skies before, in balloons and with haphazard gliding machines. But no one had mastered sustained flight, powered by an engine, in a vehicle heavier than air. The Wright brothers longed to own the skies. With a commitment, a passion, and a new way of thinking, they managed to crack the code and, on December 14th 1903, their machine managed the monumental flight of 120 feet, lasting a grand total of 12 seconds.
This in today’s numbers seems like nothing, a mere short jump. Most of us wouldn’t even call it a flight. But make no mistake, it was one of the most magnificent technological achievements of all time. And the things it led to were absolutely incredible. By 1914, barely more than a decade later, commercial flights of about 34 kilometres were happening in Florida. This first airline carried over a thousand passengers in its four month existence, cutting a three hour journey down to only 23 minutes. By 1938 Lufthansa had flown the first passenger flight, non-stop, from Berlin to Brooklyn.
That’s 3728 miles.
To go from that tiny 120 foot hop, to 3728 miles in less than 40 years?
The biggest advancement of all, however, was yet to come. Incredibly in the year 1969, images broadcast on television sets, images that would resonate around the world. In that year Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong took their one small step, and became the first human beings to stand on the Moon. From a hundred and twenty feet with the Wright Brothers, to three thousand miles with Lufthansa, to a stunning two hundred and twenty two thousand miles to the moon. All of this in sixty six years. What if we could go all the way back to that first flight? What if we could tell Wilbur and Orville than within a single generation, their dream and determination to reach the skies, would take us far beyond them. They’d think you were insane. Even Willbur, who was alive when that first transatlantic commercial flight occurred, would tell you that the idea of reaching past the blue and white limits of the clouds was generations beyond us. In truth, we made it there only 21 years after his death.
This is the speed at which the world of technology is changing. That’s why, at the beginning of this speech, I told you I wouldn’t try to predict what the future of that tech might hold. And there’s one simple reason for that: I have no earthly idea what comes next. Some might take that as a bad thing. Maybe all the biggest leaps in tech will happen after we’re gone? Maybe our moon landing will come to late for us to even see yet? And yet, I don’t see this as a bad thing. I see it as one of the most exciting things about or modern world? Because that means I have no idea what small breakthrough now is going to lead to something phenomenal in a few years time?
Which technological achievement, possibly relegated to the unread pages of newspapers and the internet, is going to change everything? Imagine a world without flying. A world without the combustion engine. A world without mobile phones, or the internet, or even the wheel. All of the inventions, things that have revolutionised the world and turned it into the place we know and recognise today, started off as minor successes. There are undoubtedly things happening right now, in the labs and factories of the world that may seem minor now, but will eventually change the world. Because that’s what people do. We strive to invent and create and change, until our world is the best it can possibly be. And that’s what we’ll keep doing, from air-planes to artificial intelligence and beyond.
So can I tell you what the future of tech holds? No. But I can tell you that we should all be excited for whatever it is.
Liverpool, United Kingdom,
Wednesday, 24th July, 2019